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Hunger: Part I

 


 

 

Claire wanted to lose weight.

 

So she woke up Monday morning, made herself a cup of coffee (black) and went to work.

 

No breakfast.

 

She figured she wasn’t that hungry anyway and she’d be saving calories, right?

 

Not likely.

 

We discovered in last week’s Ounce of Prevention that eating something small (lower calories and higher protein) could save you hundreds of calories at the next meal.

 

That’s because Hunger is real and acts in predictable ways.

Denying and resisting true Hunger backfires every time.

It’s the best way I know to gain weight.

 

 

Over-Hunger

 

Unfortunately, ignoring hunger doesn’t make it go away. As the hours tick by your body just gets more and more hungry.

 

An initial wave of hunger may pass, but if not addressed the next wave returns with a vengeance.

 

And you end up feeling over-hungry.

 

The very WORST time to make choices about your food is when you’re very, very hungry (AKA over-hungry), because:

 

  1. Our brain gets highjacked by the signal to Get Food Now! In part because the hormone, ghrelin, is at its peak when the stomach is empty. And also because your blood glucose levels are low and you crave simple carbs to get you fueled as soon as possible.

 

These signals are strong. Not generally resist-able and any “willpower” is out the window.

 

  1. Over-Hunger is uncomfortable (we can get irritable, distractible, stomach pains, headache, bad breath). For many of us here, we’ve learned to treat discomfort with food.

 

That’s why the mac and cheese sounds sooooo good. It will stop all the pain. Both physical and psychological.

 

 

The trick, then, is to eat before you get over-hungry.

 

That way you avoid the desperation and can make calm, cool decisions about the food you want to eat.

 

 

The Hunger Scale

 

The Hunger Scale is a useful tool that helps you identify your hunger levels. Once you know what it feels like to be “satisfied” rather than “full” or “just hungry” as opposed to “very hungry”, you can catch yourself before you get over-hungry.

 

I created a printable, fully labeled version of the Hunger Scale for you to download (get it here).

 

The one I use goes from -5 (empty) through 0 (neutral) to 5 (stuffed/painful).

 

 

 

 

The key is to stay in the Comfort Zone: from -2 (just hungry) to 2 (satisfied).

 

Never should anyone be at -4 or -5 (empty), nor 4 or 5 (stuffed), if they can help it.

 

 

Time and the Hunger Scale

 

After eating, it takes only 30-60 minutes (depending on the person and what they’ve eaten) to go from one number to the next down the scale (For example, I hover around 35-45 minutes between each number on the scale, so I eat every 2 to 3 hours from breakfast to dinner).

 

Once you notice hunger starting (-1), it’s wise to eat within the next 30 or so minutes. If you wait another hour you’re getting into the “very hungry” zone (-3) and another 60 minutes after that you may feel empty (-5) (read: desperate).

 

And who hasn’t gotten caught up in a project and let hours go by before getting around to eating something? Then you’re ravenous and your plans for a sensible lunch go out the window.

 

If this happens occasionally, no biggie, but if it happens nearly everyday and you struggle with your weight, it’s time to change the pattern.

 

 

How to Use the Hunger Scale for Weight Loss

 

Start by getting familiar with the Hunger Scale and how each number feels in your body. Identifying how physically hungry you really are takes practice.

 

Ask this question multiple times a day: How hungry am I right now?

 

In the beginning, this may take a minute to figure out. You’re learning to tune into physical cues you may not be used to noticing.

 

It could be easier to feel the extreme numbers (-5, -4 and 4, 5) because they are uncomfortable and “screaming” louder than the ones in the Comfort Zone (-2 to 2).

 

But the more often you check in and label your hunger level with a number, the easier it will get to identify the more subtle levels.

 

And when you eat when you’re "just hungry" and stop when you’re "satisfied" you eat fewer calories in the day. That equals weight loss, my friend. And a more comfortable experience for your body on a daily basis.

 

 

More on managing hunger and the Hunger Scale in next week’s Ounce of Prevention.

 

For now, print out your Hunger Scale here and start practicing identifying your hunger levels.

 

 

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